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With the election of a new Abbot at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Merton enters a period of unprecedented freedom, culminating in the opportunity to travel to California, Alaska, and finally the Far East – journeys that offer him new possibilities and causes for contemplation. In his last days at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Merton continues to follow the tumultuous events of the sixties, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. In Southeast Asia, he meets the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist and Catholic monks and discovers a rare and rewarding kinship with each. The final year is full of excitement and great potential for Merton, making his accidental death in Bangkok, at the age of fifth-three, all the more tragic.
This final volume of Thomas Merton's journals is filled with enthusiasm and vitality. Merton finally was out from under the thumb of Abbot James Fox, and the new abbot, Flavian Burns, one of Merton's former students, was ready to let Merton do just about anything that was likely to result in genuine spiritual renewal for Merton or the Abbey of Gethsemani. Merton's joy is almost palpable in his journal entries: "It is so utterly new to have an abbot here who is completely open to new possibilities! And it is certainly much more stimulating for the spiritual life!" During the years prior to those covered in this journal, Merton had been turning eastward toward Buddhism, in which he found great depths of spiritual energy. In these journals, we find Merton excitedly and thoughtfully preparing for his December 1968 trip to Thailand as well as notes from his visit to Alaska. With this final journal, we meet the Merton whose Catholicism had become truly catholic.